Four of the men who were charged in a November child sexual predator sting in Columbus entered guilty pleas to a lesser charge on Wednesday morning in federal court.
Kenneth Jordan, 29, of Columbus; Edwin Nieves, 55, of Columbus; Christopher McGowan, 32, of Mechanicsburg, Pa; and Dereck Weldon, 30, of Columbus entered the pleas in front of U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land.
Each pleaded guilty to the charge of use of interstate facilities to transmit information about a minor, a felony that carries a possible fine and up to five years in prison.
The men were caught in a sting, dubbed “Operation Hidden Guardian.” It was directed by the Columbus Police Department with assistance from multiple local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. There were 21 men arrested, Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren announced on Nov. 13.
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Most of the cases moved from Muscogee County Superior Court into the U.S. Middle District of Georgia federal court.
Twenty of the 21 suspects arrested were indited on Nov. 16 by a federal grand jury on charges of attempted online enticement of a minor. The charge carries a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence, and a maximum term of life in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both, up to a lifetime term of supervised release, and mandatory sex offender registration.
Launched on Nov. 9, Operation Hidden Guardian involved investigators posing as children online. They had more than 600 exchanges with people on various online platforms, including social media and chat rooms. Within more than 400 of those exchanges, the suspect initiated contact with the “child” and directed the conversation toward sex.
The agencies that were involved in the investigation were the Columbus Police Department, Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office, District Attorney’s Office for the the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit, United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Georgia, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s Child Exploitation and Computer Crimes Unit and the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
Reginald Crowell, 36, of Pittsview, Ala.; Jonathan Jenkins, 23, of Columbus; Ke Song, 24, of Auburn, Ala.;Ji Won Kim, 26, of Atlanta; Collis Eaton, 48, of Midway, Ala.; Derrick Smalls, 38, of Phenix City; Michael Everett, 22, of Columbus; Jimmy Cobb, 35, of Columbus; Harold Bates, 35, of Selma, Ala.; Jarrold Long, 27, of Columbus; William Pruitt, 48, Franklin, N.C.; Eric Menefee, 50, of Opelika, Ala.; Gary Whitfield, 28, of Columbus; Brian Corcoran, 42, of Columbus; Robert Alan Moore, 31, of Ladonia, Ala.; and Uthemes Taylor III, 30, of Columbus are still facing charges of attempted online enticement of a minor in Land’s court.
Charges against Austin Pierce, 26, of Columbus, remain in Muscogee County Superior Court. He is charged with sexual exploitation of children and trafficking person for labor or sexual servitude. He also faces an unrelated peeping tom charge from June.